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The impact of electronic publishing on library services and resources in the UK

3.7 User access

3.7.1 Document delivery

The possibility of electronic document delivery raises all the same issues as the supply of photocopies (but sometimes in a more intensified form), and a number of additional ones.

If document delivery services are able to supply any requested document at acceptable speed and cost, they become viable alternatives to journal subscriptions. The presence of increasing numbers of network-accessible suppliers and the electronic storage of documents facilitates the rapid and economic location, selection and transmission of requested items. As journal prices continue to rise there is evidence that librarians are tending to cancel subscriptions and to rely on document delivery to meet their users' specific needs. An important issue, therefore, is that of the continued economic viability of conventional journal publishing, on which, pending the arrival of the full-blown electronic journal, all document delivery services are based.

The growth of CAS-IAS services may encourage journal subscription cancellations, but it also facilitates the payment of royalties to rights owners for documents supplied, thereby providing opportunities for the development of a new revenue source.

Publishers (and authors) are very concerned about protection of the copyright of material delivered electronically. Unlike conventional photocopying, which delivers a facsimile that can only be reduced or enlarged, digitisation of the image in sophisticated document delivery systems (by OCR scanning to produce a character-coded version, which requires less storage and is easier to transmit than a bit-mapped image) facilitates modification of the output. Typography can be altered, sections of text moved and the illustrative material changed, allowing in effect the production of a new publication by recycling and reworking electronically published materials. For this reason, publishers are likely to favour the delivery to users of bit-mapped images that are less open to manipulation by the user. These are, in reality, equivalent to photocopies, albeit delivered through a telecommunications network rather than through the post.

A potentially significant issue for purely electronic documents is that of document authentication. Given that a major difference between conventional print-on-paper and electronic publishing is that the former provides a permanent record of discourse, as opposed to the essentially mutable nature of the latter, a librarian who provides a user with access to an electronic text, and the user who receives the text, have considerably less assurance that what is being provided or received is authentic, in the sense of being a definitive version. A specific example of a problem of authentication might arise in circumstances, such as legal actions for libel or liability, in which it is necessary to prove that material claimed to have been received by a user is identical to that which was sent by a provider. Plagiarism issues may be included under this heading. The moral right of the author is also relevant in this context. The establishment of a National Archive would go far to resolve this matter.

From the user's point of view, access to documents is potentially considerably enhanced by electronic document delivery. There are many more suppliers, and their locations are immaterial, since delivery over a network is not distance-bound. If payment can be made by credit card or other personal means, then the transaction bypasses the local library (but perhaps with a long-term risk of reducing or denying access to those who cannot afford document delivery). The potential move from holdings to access erodes libraries' support of browsing, and individual use of electronic document delivery services without some form of central monitoring or control could result in unnecessary duplication of expenditure.

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